CoNNective vs. CoLLective Intelligence: the individual and the collective


There is an open debate on the Net about “CoNNective Intelligence” in contraposition to “CoLLective Intelligence”. It all starts with the sociologist Derrick de Kerckhove, and his Theory of Connected Intelligence, that tries to update Pierre Levy ideas which he considers too “collectivist”. Later George Siemens, in his article “Collective Intelligence? Nah. Connective Intelligence”, directly sets both types of intelligence against each other, stating that Collective Intelligence “favors the group” in search of a common identity whilst Connective Intelligence is based on the individual that, seeking self-satisfaction, contributes value to the group.

This is a timely debate as it considers the way individuality is perceived in these processes. Following the foresaid distinction, the social bookmarking site, is a good example of Connective Intelligence. Users of this service are mainly seeking their own interests, trying to organize their bookmarks in the cloud and, as a consequence of their “selfish” motivation, are the spinning of a net of connection among links that improves collective knowledge. Wikipedia is the flagship of Collective Intelligence. The individual contributor sets out to create or edit an article of that is part of this collective effort.

I agree that different motivations give rise to both types of intelligence, but I would like to reconsider the term “Connective Intelligence” seeking a better, less confusing, definition. In the book I am writing, these posts are tidbits of what is underway, I intend to speak of connective intelligence as intelligence developed by individuals as they connect to collective networks of knowledge. That is improved individual intelligence as a result of participating in a group. This may happen when we want to rent a summer house or buy a coffee machine and we post questions on social networks to get the necessary knowledge for an informed decision. This is “coNNective” precisely because these connections amplify the individuals’ intelligence. On the other hand, talking of “coLLective” intelligence the group defines the decision space, because the problem that has to be solved affects the group, it is of a collective nature, and this is where the solutions have to be thrashed out. This is the case of the annual meeting of flat owners in a condominium to agree on next year’s budget.

Defined as such, “coNNective” intelligence amplifies individual intelligence through connections, created and managed by each individual; while “coLLective” intelligence amplifies social intelligence, that is, the capability to live in society, following logic articulated by the collective.

Rather than pondering how we can act more intelligently based on collective knowledge (using connective intelligence), however necessary, I will follow the return route. That is, how individuals can make best use of collective knowledge, but motivated by any self-respecting society’s ultimate goal: to return to the individual the best of our collective construction.

While different, both of these viewpoints are perfectly compatible. To consider these types of intelligence as opposite is absurd, or more precisely, a liberal tantrum. If the groups we belong to make good decisions, if they act intelligently, then it should have a positive impact on the other type of intelligence, the connective, because it improves environmental factors and improves the quality of the input that will amplify individual intelligences.

Of course a good collective decision seeks the social optimum because that is why it is collective (dependencies among individuals must be negotiated), and therefore on occasions there may be conflict with the individual expectations of group members. When these dilemmas arise the group must be prioritized, and that is why it is fundamental to improve the logic of Collective Intelligence.

No one can deny (not even the most radical liberals) that there are many types of problems that are collective by nature, and that require that large groups reach agreement on some common judgement or decision. The basic challenge therefore remains unchanged: How can we generate collective results that are satisfactory (for the goals of the group) without losing or blinding individual potential?

I can understand that the term “collective” raises concerns related to practices that curtail freedom, but the only way I can conceive improving CI is via individual intelligence and responsibility. People that think and work on their own opinion and then connect to enrich the collective thought process.

To finish, it is curious that once we are familiar with the logic of collective intelligence, this knowledge can be applied to the heuristics of individual intelligence. To do this imagine that our mind acts as if it were a group mind, made up of different individuals with different opinions. As Hélène Landemore explains, these individuals establish a sort of internal cognitive diversity, which enables them to see from multiple perspectives and even admit as valid propositions that are apparently contradictory in nature.

Notes: This post was translated into English with the help of Peter Hodgson. The image of the post belongs to the album of Luz Adriana Villa en Flickr. Read this post in Spanish (Lee este post en Español)

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